Hello good and beautiful people, this is the 12th season preview for the Pistons! They are coming fast and furious today.
Where he is now:
Spent most of last year on the bench while occasionally getting garbage time minutes, he ended up actually playing in a few games and also went to the D League briefly. He comes into the year in the mix for playing time on the wing, primarily competing with Gbinije, Bullock, and Stanley Johnson for the bench wing minutes.
What to generally expect from him this year:
I would be a bit surprised if he breaks into the regular rotation unless unexpected circumstances put him there (serious injuries or a trade) although at some point he will almost certainly see some minutes because guys will get hurt for at least a game or two at some point. When called upon he can give minutes at either SG or SF.
On offense is where Darrun is supposed to make his money. He is a good shooter from the outside, although he does not exactly have a quick release, but after last year the best thing he has going for him is probably that he is at least a pretty reliable shooter. Other than that though, there is potential with question marks. SVG has said that Hilliard may be the 3rd or 4th best ball handler on the team in his ability to put it on the floor and make plays, and he has shown flashes of being a really effective creator for himself and occasionally for others as well. The problem is that more often than not, when he is against actual NBA rotation players (not garbage time) he struggles to create good looks. This is a problem because when you are at your best with the ball in your hands, you have to be good enough to justify being the 1st or 2nd option on the floor. And if he can't improve against NBA competition then he is just another guy who can shoot a bit, which is still useful, just nothing special.
On the plus side, there were a couple of moments where he looked like he belonged on the floor and was creating his own shot. For this season he has to figure out if he can actually be a secondary ball handler in the NBA or not, because if he can then he will find a role whether with the Pistons or someone else, as a bench creator that all teams could use. But if he just doesn't have the goods to do that against NBA players, then he needs to keep honing his shot, his passing, and other off ball skills to become better as a complimentary player.
This is almost the more important end for Hilliard. He has solid length, and a little meat on the bones as well, so he could in theory become a pretty solid wing defender with some versatility. The problem is that last year he generally looked totally lost on defense and was largely incapable of guarding anyone at all. That is not the end of the world because he was a rookie, but if he wants to see the floor at all he needs to be better than that this year. He may not be a good enough athlete to be a really good defender, but with his size on the wing, if he gets smarter as a defender he should be able to be pretty good.
Here is the thing though, there are lots of guys who have the potential to be good defenders, and for whatever reason they just never manage to put it together and get any good on that end. The reason it is so important for Hilliard to learn to play defense is because, as stated in the offense section, he might not actually be good enough to be handling the ball and running the offense. He does have a reliable 3 ball though, so if he can get to the point where he is a decent defender then he is a long wing who can do the 3 and D thing with effectiveness, and even a little off the dribble bounce in his game. If he doesn't figure it out on defense he is going to be an all or nothing guy pretty much. He either becomes a 6th man type who can put it on the floor and have the offense run through him, or he is a yet another guard who can shoot a little bit but plays no defense. If he can figure it out on defense though, he greatly increases his value and likelihood to stick in the league. I like what I have heard out of camp about his effort to improve defensively, but until we see it games we won't know for sure.
Essentially he just needs to get smart enough defensively to be in the right places at the right times, and then he can just use his length and strength to cause issues, even if he is never any sort of lockdown defender.
I honestly have no idea, from what you hear he is a good worker and was a 4 year player in college. But there haven't exactly been any big mentions of him. So I honestly don't know, when he is on the floor he does hold the ball too long and can become a chucker at times as well. This is totally unfair to him, but he just sort of seems like a guy who thinks he is better than he is, just based on the way he carries himself. Which worries me a bit for his potential transition to being just a 3 and D guy, and remember that he would not be the first 4 year college player to get to the NBA and never be able to adjust to not having the offense run through him.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
He is putting the ball on the floor with regularity and it is working.
People start to compare his left handed, herky jerky, off the bench game with Manu.
He doesn't look lost on defense and even occasionally looks good.
Run for the hills if:
There are injuries/poor play by the wing players in front of him, and SVG clearly is still hesitant to play him.
He looks lost on defense.
He catches a bad case of the Chucks.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
The defense isn't much good but it is at least slightly improved.
He doesn't make any adjustment away from not being a ball handler.
His season is similar to last years and never breaks into the regular rotation.
What do you think? Will he win some minutes? Will he learn defense? Can he create against NBA defenses?